Thursday, January 31, 2019

Timor - Leste is still a safe place for journalists in Southeast Asia

DILI - According to the IFJ South East Asia Media Freedom Report 2018, claiming that Timor-Leste is among the seven countries in the region is considered the best place for journalists, but the biggest threat journalists noted in terms of the creation of a strong media in Timor Leste was chronically low wages. Out of 12 listed threats, almost half nominated poor wages and working conditions as the single biggest threat to their craft.
Timor Leste has been one of the more encouraging media spots in the region over the past decade. A fairly lively media environment has grown since independence in 1999. A small nation of 1.2 million people it now hosts five local dailies, four weeklies, six TV stations (five private, one government) and about 20 local radio stations throughout the country. However extreme poverty, dangers in reporting corruption issues and partisan political violence in the past, still cast a shadow over the journalists recently surveyed.
The IFJ – SEAJU survey canvassed 58 working journalists in Timor Leste. The results are relatively positive. A total
 of 50 per cent believe the situation for journalists has improved somewhat or significantly in the past year. Seventy per cent believe it is static or has improved. But disturbingly, the fear
of threats, physical violence and legal persecution remains high for journalists in Timor Leste.
Faith in government oversight remain low and the task of exposing corruption over the past decade has fallen largely 
to journalists. During the 2018 election campaign, opponents of Xanana Gusmão, prime minister from 2007 to 2015, highlighted the rampant cronyism that dominated the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party’s decade in power. One example is Gusmão’s nephew, Nilton Gusmão, who held lucrative government contracts and today is said to be one of the country’s wealthiest men. It takes a certain kind of bravery to report on such matters in a small city.
One journalist said to the IFJ: “It
can be a dangerously small place.
In the morning you might accuse a businessman of corruptly receiving money from a relative in politics. It could destroy him. In the afternoon you’ll join him in the same supermarket queue . . . It is difficult to do strong reporting on a high politician. I am aware of that. I have to manage myself carefully. I get used to leaving Dili after a story”.
While there were only two reports
of physical attacks made on journalists last year in the survey, a quarter of
those surveyed noted being physically threatened for their reporting in the same period and a third of them actively fear physical attacks on themselves or their families.
With billions of dollars of oil revenue flowing through government hands the opportunities for corruption are high and the stakes for journalists reporting on such expenditure even higher. Those risks haven’t deterred some of Timor Leste’s most notable reporters. For those reporters, death threats, threats to harm or threats to sue are not uncommon.
On a positive note, the vast majority of journalists surveyed (89 per cent)
 felt there was not a culture of impunity for physical or character attacks upon journalists in Timor Leste. Journalists appear to have high confidence in the courts and the judicial system. Only 9 per cent consider that the courts do not treat attacks upon journalists with due seriousness. Confidence in police and political leaders on the same question however is particularly low. Seventy-two per cent of journalists cite police and politicians as the dominant negative influence upon impunity for attacks against reporters.
Low Profits, Low Wages
The biggest threat journalists noted in terms of the creation of a strong media in Timor Leste was chronically low wages. Out of 12 listed threats, almost half nominated poor wages and working conditions as the single biggest threat to their craft.
Quite aside from the difficulty of surviving on low wages, the broader impact is seen in a very high churn rate for journalists in the local media environment. There is a distinct absence of mid-career reporters in Timor Leste, which evidences the attrition from the industry. Wages
are so poor that practitioners are easily lured into public relations, government jobs or advisory media positions with politicians. With a low profit base, private media has extreme difficulty in retaining good staff.
Raimundos Oki, freelance journalist said: “Most journalists are moving
to the state media if they can or
more likely they move into NGO’s or government. Most journalists I
know become media officers with the government or a minister. I understand. They get a guaranteed wage, they get a pension. But it is bleeding us.”
Fear of Attack
The capital Dili is the seat of political power, the economic base for a business class largely reliant upon government development projects and, of course, the home for most of the media. With a population of just 222,000, it can be an uneasy and overly intimate mix.
The economy is highly reliant upon national oil revenue and its subsequent expenditure though private contractors remains the subject of intense speculation, with much of the country’s oil wealth in recent years poured into megaprojects at the expense of much- needed public services including running water, schools and health clinics. UN figures released just prior to the election showed almost half the population lives below the extreme poverty line.
Under Paid, Under Pressure

On the surface, the population is well served with multiple media outlets. But most of these organizations are barely viable financially. All of them, public or private, are highly reliant on government funding.
Veteran reporter, Jose Belo, believes that appointments to state media are highly politicized and that private media is equally vulnerable to government influence. He estimates that the vast majority of advertising income across all media is sourced from the government. He also estimates that government departments account for more than
half of all newspaper subscriptions.
The Government funding is welcomed by many as providing assistance to
the industry but Belo notes, “If you do
a good story here you go broke. The ministers and their departments will hate you and the money will stop”.
Belo was the editor of newspaper Tempo Semanal, which was broadly viewed as the main source of investigative journalism in Timor Leste. Tempo Semanal folded two years ago and in the view of Raimundos Oki investigative journalism has halved since its demise.
“Investigative journalism is the most important type of journalism and we have gone rapidly backwards since that paper closed,” he said. “Young journalists want to do it. We now train for it, we talk about it, we aspire to it. The energy is there but the outlets are few.”
Belo recently relaunched himself online with his website tempotimor.
com but is struggling to bring on the journalists who want to work with him.
“There are great young journalists, educated and who want to be trained on the job. There are good people in private media. There are strong people. But life is not easy here. We surrender to money or we suffer.”
Several journalists note the relative poverty of journalists makes them vulnerable to receiving payments from businesspeople and politicians for favourable coverage. While not seen as an endemic problem the behaviour is widely suspected.
A more benign example of financial influence has been through the payment of accommodation fees and “per diems” for journalists travelling with official parties throughout the countryside. The IFJ affiliate, the Timor-Leste Press Union (TLPU) views the practice as potentially compromising to political and business reporting. They have undertaken to end all such arrangements this year and have reached agreements with state and private media to cover related costs for staff journalists.
New Laws, Regulators, Threats

A new Media law was implemented
in Timor Leste in 2015 in the face of vocal opposition from journalists and notable concern by international press groups. The most controversial element of the law were criminal defamation provisions. These were removed to ensure passage through parliament.
But several concerning elements were enacted in the new media law, including a scheme to issue government licences to enable the practice of journalism in Timor Leste. Australian barrister and
IFJ observer for Timor Leste, Jim Nolan, notes that the new laws have wisely been implemented gently.
“It is absurd to think that any society that aspires to free speech can achieve it by licensing journalists, including online commentators,” Nolan said. “In the reverse, journalists can be deregistered by a government-appointed body and prosecuted if they continue to write and publish. In the wrong hands this could be extremely draconian.”
The Media Law established a Press Council to regulate and oversee the behaviour of journalists. Against
earlier expectations, the Press Council appears to have been well accepted by journalists. Although all are aware of its punitive powers, very few surveyed criticised its current operation. The council has taken on a strong general advocacy role for journalists and has been effective in mediating complaints about the media that may otherwise end up in the courts. Nolan notes, “the Press Council seems to be operating quite well with individuals well- disposed to the interests of journalists. I see them as a mixed blessing. There are good people there but as a body they are vulnerable to abuse.”
Anti Union
  Francisco Belo Da Costa was sacked from his role as editor-in-chief with GMN due to his role on the Press Council. Credit: Supplied.
One of the reasons for the Press Council’s popularity among journalists this year was the actions and subsequent sacking of Press Council member, Francisco Belo Da Costa. Da Costa was the editor-in- chief of Grupo Media Nacional (GMN), which spans both print and broadcast, when he was reputedly sacked for his activities in seeking to improve staff conditions on behalf of the Press Council and the journalist union TLPU.
“ He was putting the Press Council and union position to GMN that journalists should be paid overtime,” said Raimundos Oki. “He is a very senior guy and was promptly sacked. If they can sack a guy like him, they can sack anybody. Younger journalists know that well. They are under a lot of pressure to not be involved in a union. They can’t speak publicly. Union membership is high but they can’t be seen to be involved in campaigns. It is a fact.”
Jose Belo concurs that the sacking of Francisco Belo Da Costa was one of the most negative events for journalism in Timor Leste in the past year. “He was a good journalist and good editor. I don’t think it was just about his work with the Press Council. He was doing stories about politicians getting government contracts. He was doing stories about businessmen that the GMN guys were affiliated with. That is what finishes journalists here.”
The Crime of Journalism
Although Criminal Defamation was struck out of the 2015 Media Law, another law has been applied to effectively bring it back, threatening journalists with criminal convictions and imprisonment.
A little known provision of the old Portuguese criminal code, Section 285 Slanderous Denunciation, seems to have come back into vogue. Jim Nolan calls it a “ghost of a colonial Portuguese law that just hung around and almost no-one noticed it.” It is a ghost that can put a journalist in prison for up to three years.
It was applied in 2013 against journalists Oscar Maria Salsinha and Raimundos Oki whose newspapers both accused a public official of accepting a bribe. They were both acquitted.
Raimundos Oki was charged with the offence again in 2017, together with his editor, Lourenco Vicente, for an article suggesting the prime minister improperly awarded a supply contract. Prosecutors were seeking 12 months imprisonment. Again the journalists were acquitted, but the impact of these criminal cases has had a chilling effect on journalists.
“I was grateful to the court but the law is still a threat to every journalist in the country,” said Oki. “It hangs over every word we write.” •
Timor Laws Still a Concern
In 2017, two Timor Leste journalists faced criminal charges for just doing their jobs. 
When he was prime minister, Rui Maria de Araujo’s administration brought charges of “slanderous denunciation” against Timor Post journalist
Raimundos Oki and a former editor Lourenco Martins over an article published on November 10, 2015.
The article made accusations of possible “bid rigging” in relation to a government computer contract. If convicted, the prosecutors were seeking a year’s jail for Oki and placing Martins on probation.
Timor Leste abolished criminal defamation after rewriting its laws following independence in May, 2002. But the duo were charged under the obscure s285 provision of Timor Leste’s penal code - that of “defamatory false information” which survived the rewrite.
By instituting criminal proceedings, Timor Leste prosecutors sidestepped the country’s 2014 Press Law, which favours mediation of press complaints. They also ignored the fact that the Timor Post had published an immediate correction of the one item in the story which contained an acknowledged mistake, the misspelling of the company which was named.
The charges and trial provoked outrage among the small Timor Leste journalist community, and, in an unprecedented move, on May 29, 2017, there was an industry-wide demonstration. All major publications in Dili carried statements from their editors denouncing the charges and the prospect of convictions, and a jail term for Oki.
It was the first time Timor Leste journalists had taken to the streets of Dili to demonstrate their support for press freedom in solidarity with their colleagues. They had no doubt that Oki had come in for special attention because he was one of a tiny group of journalists doing investigative work.
In court, the prosecutors produced little else than the text of Oki’s article. However, the provision of the 285 penal code the pair were charged under requires proof of publication “with the intent of having criminal proceedings initiated against the person”. No evidence of this intent was placed before the court.
The prosecutors’ approach carried the implication
that any exercise of investigative journalism directed to exposing public malfeasance would risk investigation and charges under the penal code.
This is antithetical to the expression of freedom of the press embodied in articles 8 and 9 of the Press Law, which establishes the right for journalists not to be subjected to any interference that threatens their independence and objectivity, and, the right to freedom of expression and freedom from harassment.
After the trial proceeded in fits and starts throughout early 2017, the decision was handed down in the Dili District Court on the afternoon of June 1, 2017.
As the time of the judgment approached, the small courtroom in central Dili filled to overflowing. In addition to overseas observers in attendance, in the front row of the public gallery was former first lady, and well-known human rights advocate, Isabel da Costa Ferreira who is the spouse of the current Prime Minister Tuar Matan Ruak.
When the verdict dismissing the charges was announced, the public gallery burst into spontaneous applause.
Oki said he was relieved to be cleared and said the case would be seen as a bellwether for press freedom in Asia’s youngest nation. “I am happy to hear the court’s ruling that cleared me, I hope this can serve as a lesson for me and other journalists to not be afraid but still careful in writing a sensitive article,” he said.
The following morning, Oki and representatives from the IFJ attended the offices of the Press Council of Timor Leste. The president, Gil Guterres, made it clear that the Press Council expected that Oki’s case would be the last that reached the courts. He stressed that the mechanism for handling complaints against the press was now contained in the Press Law and that all such complaints should be referred to the council in the future. The council also had talks with the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the police to this end.
The decision was significant for a variety of reasons.
It demonstrated that there can be no substitute for a rigorous application of the law as it is written as a starting point to preserve and enhance the rule of law. The courage and professionalism of the young judge who heard the case cannot be overstated.
The acquittal is not the end of the matter, however. While such laws are on the books, they represent a source of permanent temptation for politicians and ambitious prosecutors to seek “pay back” against political opponents. It’s not just the law which represents a potential source of intrusion upon the press, but the chilling effect the prospect of prosecution has on the exercising of press freedom.
While the decision is cause for celebration, it provides a very real illustration of the threats to a free press and the state of the law affecting freedom of expression in Timor Leste.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Xanana called President Lú Olo stupid

DILI – Former prime – minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão react angrily to Lú Olo’s state budget veto.

President of the republic Francisco Guterres Lú Olo is still as FRETILIN party president and his general secretary is Mari Alkatiri.

On the same day after President Lú Olo vetoed the 2019 state budget, Alkatiri also immediately stated that in order to stop this political impasse a dialogue was needed but prime minister Taur Matan Ruak replied he had no time for dialogue because he wanted to focus on the vetoed state budget to be fixed in parliament and returned to the president for promulgation.

The position of Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão is also the same that there is no way for dialogue.

Xanana said Lu Olo make a stupid decision by vetoed the state budget for 2019.

“Ohh nothing, he's stupid. I have read his justification. . . everything. . . no need . . . .  to show that he knows but even though there is no logic.

President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo said Wednesday the 2019 budget agreed to by the parliament in December would drag the country further into deficit and force it to draw down more reserves from an oil riches fund already forecast to be depleted in a decade.

In a lengthy statement, he criticized the $2.1 billion budget, East Timor's largest ever, for devoting too much to buying foreign oil assets and too little to health, education and other public services.
"These values are so low that they do not meet the minimum requirements of social services and economic growth," the statement said.
Guterres said parliament now must revise the budget, which allocates about 30 percent or $670 million to oil and gas development.
East Timor agreed in October to buy a 30 percent stake in the Greater Sunrise field off its southern coast from ConocoPhillips for $350 million. An earlier developed oil field, Bayu-Undan, is now nearly exhausted.
Lú Olo has failed twice in the presidential election, but has succeeded in winning the presidential election in March 2017 because he received a baptism from Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão.

At the time, Mr Guterres's campaign was backed by Fretilin, the party that led East Timor's revolutionary struggle to independence, and the country's behind-the-scenes powerbroker Xanana Gusmao.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Indicted Journalists

Jose Belo
In 2008, East Timor Minister of Justice Lucia Lobato accused Jose Belo, publisher of investigative newspaper Tempo Semanal of defamation. At the time, many of the press laws in East Timor were inherited from Indonesian military rule. In a number of articles in Tempo Semanal, Belo accused Lobato of corruption and using her power to get friends and family members into high-paying government positions.

In response, Lobato brought a defamation charge against Belo using an Indonesian-era law that made defamation a criminal offense. Lobato was criticized by many members of the East Timor press, as she and other members of the East Timor government were in the process of drafting a new law that downgraded defamation to a civil, rather than criminal offense. Under the old law, Belo faced a possible prison sentence of seven years. Belo said “It’s very sad for my country that they keep using foreign invader’s laws to prosecute me. We should have our own laws.”

After the East Timor Government pressed charges against Belo, several press freedom groups criticized the East Timor Government for limiting press freedoms. Some of these groups include East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), Pacific Media Watch (PMW), and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) who sent a letter to East Timor’s President José Ramos-Horta urging him to drop the charges against Belo.

Court decision
Ultimately, outside support for Belo helped his case. In June 2009, Ramos-Horta passed a law that removed defamation as a criminal offense. Soon after, charges against Belo and the Tempo Semanal were dismissed.

Raimundos Oki

On November 10, 2015, freelance reporter Raimundos Oki wrote an article for the Timor Post in which he accused East Timor Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo of possible “bid rigging” in a government computer contract. In this case, Oki contends that Araujo had a history of this practice, and according to internal government documents, he gave preferential treatment to a particular technological firm—Packet Sistemindonesia Teknotama (PT).

Defamation charges

After the story’s release, the government claimed Oki had released the story with a “factual error” by misspelling the name of technology firm, PT. On November 17, 2015, The Timor Post issued a correction with the accurate spelling of PT and printed a written response from the prime minister’s office, defending itself against the accusations. In January 2016, the East Timor Government charged Oki with criminal defamation charges. Oki faces a maximum sentence of three years in jail if convicted.

Outside support

As in the case of Jose Belo, many press freedom groups have voiced their support for Oki. The IFJ, CPJ, and Freedom House are just a few who have reached out to the East Timor Government. In a letter sent to Prime Minister de Araujo in April 2016, they urged him to drop charges against Oki and his former editor, Lourenco Martins. In a response letter to the group, Araujo said: “I will not trade press freedom and fre edom of expression with ‘press irresponsibility’ and ‘irresponsible expression of freedom.”

On 1 June, a Dili court cleared Raimundos Oki and Lourenco Vicente Martins of all charges against them. The two Timorese journalists were on trial on criminal “defamatory false information” charges filed by Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister in 2016.

Raimundos Oki and Lourenco Vicente Martins were cleared of criminal defamation on 1 June by a court in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital. Prime Minister Rui Aria de Araujo filed criminal charges on 22 January 2016 against the two journalists for “defamatory false information” or “slanderous denunciation” under Article 285(1) of the Timor-Leste Criminal Code over a 2015 article they published about irregularities during the tendering process for a government IT project.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Timorese patience and determination pays off – new treaty to establish permanent maritime boundaries for the first tim

East Timor’s decision to drag the Australian Government to “compulsory conciliation” at the UN has paid off – a new and better treaty is set to be signed next week.

Timor Sea Justice Campaign spokesperson, Tom Clarke, said although the details remained under wraps, all the signs were suggesting that the Timorese are set to secure their permanent maritime boundaries and a fairer share of government revenues from the Greater Sunrise gas field.

“This outcome will be testament to the determination of the Timorese people and their governments to stand firm in the face of a neighbouring bully and claim their sovereign rights. This issue has never been about charity – it’s about justice and what East Timor is entitled to under international law,” said Mr Clarke.

The treaty is scheduled to be signed at United Nations headquarters in New York and the ceremony will be witnessed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Unlike the old dodgy deals that the Australian Government jostled East Timor into, this new treaty is expected to actually establish permanent maritime boundaries for the first time. This is something the Timorese have been asking for since 2002, but instead successive Australian Governments have sought to short-change them at every opportunity,” said Mr Clarke.

Recent media reports claim that the new treaty will give a larger share of the government revenue from the Greater Sunrise field to East Timor – 80% if the gas is piped 450 km to Darwin for processing where Australia will reap the downstream economic benefits of jobs and related activities, or 70% if the gas is piped 150 km to East Timor.

“We’re hoping there’s not too much devil in the detail, but overall this treaty sounds like it will be a significant improvement. We should remember that in the original treaty regarding Greater Sunrise, the Australian Government offered Timor a miserly 18% of government revenue. Whereas under this new treaty, the Timorese could receive up to 80% of the revenue, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that Timor’s decision to stand up for its rights has been completely vindicated,” said Mr Clarke.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign is a grassroots campaign made up of concerned Australian of various backgrounds and political persuasions which held its first meeting in 2004 and has doggedly followed and sought to expose the dubious actions of successive Australian Governments.

“Over the years the Australian Government has tried every trick in the book to try to short-change our Timorese neighbours out of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues. Fortunately, ordinary citizens have taken a stand each time to call out our Government’s greed. We stood in solidarity with the Timorese people and we owe a big thanks to all the people who helped along the way – everyone who wrote letters to MPs, turned up to our protests, chipped in a few dollars here and there, and organised events at their schools, churches and in their communities. It’s another example of the fantastic history of solidarity between the people of Australia and East Timor,” said Mr Clarke.

For further details or comments, please contact Tom Clarke on 0422 545 763

Timor Sea Justice Campaign